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Reluctance to hand over power

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Cass has been a couch potato these last ten days with BBC and CNN unspooling the presidential election results in the US of America. A nail-biting cliff hanger – the counting of ballots. Finally, the oldest man to contest the American presidency received the highest number of votes ever, creating double history. As if that were not enough, he selected as running mate an Indian-Jamaican woman, knowing full well that if anything drastic were to happen to him, she would be Prez of the US of A. Further, if he decides not to run for a second term, his present age of 77 being against him, she may become the first woman President – BlackAsian. Ooh La La!

As expected with the man, Trump was his true self: nasty, obstreperous and stubborn. He jumped the gun the day after polls closed and counting had just began with the announcement to all and sundry that he had won and hence further vote counting must stop. And up until the time of writing, Wednesday 11 November, he is limpet-like declaring he remains in the White House and will bring cases of fraud to oust the Prez elect. He has not listened to the insignificant bleating of Melania to throw in the towel and concede victory to Biden, chorusing many others. He has not listened even to his beloved daughter and her husband Kushner, his personal assistant. We will watch the unfolding drama, as Biden starts working on his policy priority number 1: pandemic control and the Hump, sorry, Trump, goes off continuously to play golf. The TIME magazine used its name as part of its current cover title: TIME …To Go.

 

Messy handing overs in this Paradise

We have had our fair share of refusal of incumbents to vacate the highest post and resorting to abnormal manoeuvres. The worst of the stink was puppeteered by former accused killer of him and enacted solely by President Maitripala Sirisena on October 26, 2018. As usual he bungled badly and brought international scorn on this fair isle.

His UPFA decided under his orders to withdraw from the shaky coalition government. Shortly after, SLPP MP Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as Prime Minister by President Sirisena. PM Ranil Wickremasinghe refused to vacate his position and Temple Trees. Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa contended they commanded majority numbers in Parliament. However, before a floor vote could be called, the Prez prorogued Parliament.

So Free Sri Lanka notched another aberrated uniqueness on the international map. The man who was accused of putting him six feet under if he lost, and he betrayed after breaking egg hoppers with, to sneak to enemy lines to be crowned Prez of Sri Lanka, got so buddy that he tried to push the legitimate PM off his chair and install Mahinda R. Rightly Ranil stuck to his seat, with loads loyal to him at Temple Trees. The Speaker, Karu J and judges of the Supreme Court righted wrongs and the country was back to ‘as before’ with the two Heads of the coalition government now with openly drawn daggers. Thrust to greatness in 2015, Sirisena is supposed to have said he would continue addressing Ranil as ‘Sir’ but soon enough was holding a menacing sword in his hand. He nearly dug his political grave in three years. And the great favour he did Mahinda R did not earn him even a Cabinet post this year, though he executed a 360 degree turn in loyalty – his kind.

What we, the proles and plebs of Free Sri Lanka will never forget is the atrociously despicable behaviour of UPFA MPs becoming criminal hooligans in the House by the Diyawanne at the unconstitutional move. Those looking to the welfare of farmers of the land now; industries; highways and holding the Whip; and the woman who attempted to do a sacrificial act of patriotically sailing to sea in a clay pot, behaved the worst. Cass heard that when the Navy and others were striving to push to deeper waters those sharks and dolphins who stranded themselves on our western shores, they – the creatures – mustered last gasps of strength and crawled back to deeper sea. They said, it is imagined, that sonic booms of warships of four nations playing ‘Let’s Pretend War at Sea’ games were a less evil than braving a VIP potted dame.

 

1950s

Trouble erupted soon after Independence when the PM fell off his horse and died. Governor Lord Soulbury, overlooking the two next most senior: John Kots and SWRDB, appointed Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister on March 26, 1952. Kotelawala flew to his retreat in Kent to sulk but not before penning the scathing Premier Stakes. And SWRD walked in revenge across the old Parliament aisle and formed a new Party – the SLFP. As an aside Cass says sadly that both Parties seem to be annihilated by human hands. The Green Elephant is down on his knees, shorn of power, long life and solidity; and the Blue Party floundering, its wings clipped by Pohottuwa. From 2015 to 2019 the wrestling started early with Sirisena getting hoity toity and power hungry and Ranil becoming more stubborn and intolerable.

Dudley S was PM from 1952 to 53 after which he called a general election. He was greatly troubled and both physically and mentally affected by the hartal of 1953. Crafty Sir Oliver Goonetilake, Gov Gen, negotiated peace between the two men: Dudley and John. Being gentlemen of the old school, and yes, patriots too, they made up and Dudley promoted John Kotelawala as P M. They say Dudley S was too humane, weak in other words. Allowance has to be made for a health condition from birth – stomach complaint which flared up when stressed. Sirimavo Bandaranaike entered the political arena as the Weeping Widow and ended quite the only man in her Cabinet. But she became intolerant of criticism; nationalized Lake House and lost her earlier halo. Elections were due in 1974 but she clung on for more than two years. Crushed by JRJ’s landslide, she however clung on as leader of her Party and when daughter Chandrika became Prez was brought in as PM, a completely lame one. It was rumoured that visiting chief guest Prince Charles left the 4 February Independence parade grounds early as he preferred to be whisked to Jaffna rather than sit through proceedings near a silent PM with a stiff neck, a half disabled Defence Secy and a fainting IGP! D B Wijetunge had power thrust on him by the evil of the LTTE assassination of Prez Premadasa on May 1 1993. He was by far the most accommodating politician, and yes, gracious. The moment the UNP lost the November 1994 election, although Ranil W could have cobbled a coalition government under Prez Wijetunge, he opted to hand over power to CBK and moved out of President’s House, not summarily like W Dahanayake giving up premiership and travelling by train home to Galle with one little suitcase. Dubbed Dearly Beloved, the short lived Prez retired gracefully to his home in Pilimatalawa near Kandy.

The longest standee in the political wings, J R Jayawardene, was, notwithstanding his cunning, a statesman. He pushed Ceylon out of economic doldrums by opening up the country and recognised ability and nurtured it; not annihilating it as some others were wont to do. Thus the meteoric rise of young Gamini D and Lalith A. Most vilify JRJ for his pot/ lamp referendum on December 22 1982. Cass for one, who wholeheartedly voted for a continuation of the 1976 UNP government, was surprised at how friends of hers were so angry about the unconstitutionality of it. Cass believed JRJ wanted to proceed on his development plans with no interruption of a general election, which of course the UNP would have won but depleted of the majority of 1976. JRJ was another statesman to admire as regards his willing retirement in 1989.

The last reluctant man in power to leave it and the hot seat is Mahinda Rajapakss following his loss to Sirisena in 2015.

Remembered is his helicopter descent to his Medamulane home, (but not to obscurity as later events proved), and standing within a window frame to address a miniscule of plebs who were gathered to welcome him.

Turmoil, turmoil, trouble, bubble. We have certainly not seen the last of limpet Heads masquerading as statesmen. The main question is when will Trump go – permanently lumbering to his golf course and business tricks!



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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